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12 posts from May 2018

Foundations Have Invested $50 Billion in the SDGs, But Who’s Counting?

May 23, 2018

SDGs_logoThe Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) represent the most ambitious — as well as expensive — global development framework in history. The framework sets specific targets in seventeen areas, from ending poverty in all its forms (Goal 1), to combating climate change and its impacts (Goal 13), to achieving gender equality (Goal 5). But with an estimated annual price tag of $3.5 trillion, it's clear that governments alone cannot finance the SDGs and hope to achieve the framework's 2030 targets. With that in mind, all stakeholders within the development ecosystem, including private and philanthropic actors, need to step in and step up their contributions. Our research shows that while the philanthropic sector has been doing its part, it can do much more.

Foundation Center has been tracking philanthropy's support for the Sustainable Development Goals since the beginning. Our data shows that foundations have contributed more than $50 billion toward achieving the SDGs since January 2016, when the SDG agenda was formally launched, and we are tracking that number in real time — i.e., as more grantmaking data becomes available, we immediately make more SDG-related funding data available. Pretty cool! (NB: We can only track what we can collect, so if we don't have your data, we can't account for your contribution.) Using this "latest available data approach," we can confirm that philanthropy has been and will continue to play a crucial role in financing and driving the SDGs.

In a blog post in 2016, Foundation Center president Brad Smith predicted that foundations would contribute $364 billion toward achieving the by 2030. While it's too early to say whether Brad will be proved correct, the initial trends are favorable. Of the $50 billion in foundation giving we have tracked, roughly $40 billion is based on 2016 data while the rest ($10 billion) comes from foundation giving data collected in 2017 and 2018. As more data from both domestic and international foundations comes in, we estimate that total foundation giving for 2016 will increase by another 15 percent or so by December, when we'll have a more complete data set, and as more international foundations share their data for research purposes. If that trend holds through 2030, it's quite likely that foundations will contribute more than the $364 billion originally estimated by Brad.

Picking winners

It's not a surprise that Goal 3 (Ensure healthy lives) and Goal 4 (Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education for all) have received the lion’s share of the funding to date (both more than $18 billion). In addition to regular health-related spending, foundations also have contributed significant sums in response to various health emergencies, both natural and man-made. That list includes avian influenza, Zika virus, Ebola virus, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), and outbreaks of yellow fever, as well as public health emergencies caused by war, cyclones, and earthquakes. At the same time, the goal to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education for all has long been important to many funders and continues to attract significant funding, even in the SDG era.

Though it has received considerably less funding than the other two, it’s interesting to note that Goal 5 (Achieve gender equality) ranks third in our data — our preliminary analysis hints at a promising scenario for gender equality-related funding — while Goal 16 (Promote peaceful and inclusive societies and justice for all) is close behind in the fourth spot. Indeed, a deep dive into Goal 16-related funding reveals that a lot of the grants made in support of efforts in this area overlap with Goal 5, gender equality, which suggests to us that peace and justice are strongly correlated with gender equality and that funders are well aware of the linkage.

Foundation Funding_SDGs

Who are the top funders and recipients?

Not surprisingly, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation tops the list of  funders who have supported SDG-related efforts in terms of dollars given, while the Silicon Valley Community Foundation is currently in the fourth spot, which is quite remarkable for a community foundation. It’s also exciting to see foundations from outside the U.S. on the list, with the Wellcome Trust and Big Lottery Fund — both UK-based — occupying the second and seventh spots, respectively. This is particularly important because it suggests that while foundations outside the U.S. are making sizable grants to advance the SDG agenda,  the global development community may not be aware of the extent of that giving since the data is not being widely shared. Needless to say, the main goal of SDGfunders.org is to highlight these funding trends and use the data currently available to tell a more compelling and complete story about the progress being made toward achieving the SDGs.

What's in a number?

The foundation funding total to date (more than $50 billion) represents a tally of all foundation grants identified by Foundation Center that are consistent with the seventeen SDGs and their targets. The number is not meant to suggest that foundations have intentionally aligned all that giving with the SDGs and/or internalized the SDG framework, although that may be the case for some. In addition, about 97 percent of the total is grantmaking by U.S.-based foundations, although more  international grantmaking data is being included as it is made available to us.

Arif Ekram_Lauren_Bradford_for_PhilanTopicIt's important to emphasize that the funding totals we are reporting are based on actual data on nearly a million grants we have collected to date — not on surveys, pledges, or good intentions. As many of you know, sharing grants data has never been easier, and the more data we share as a sector, the easier it will be to demonstrate to the world how institutional philanthropy is meeting the challenge of the global goals.

To learn more about SDG-related foundation funding and how to share your data with us, please visit SDGfunders.org.

Arif Ekram and Lauren Bradford are manager and director, respectively, of global partnerships at Foundation Center.

Addressing Racial Equity With an Organizational Change Lens

May 21, 2018

Racial equity treeOrganizational change efforts can be daunting, even when the organization and its leaders know that such an effort will lead to a stronger, more sustainable organization in the long term. When it comes to racial equity, such efforts often carry an extra level of pressure. That's because change efforts seeking to enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) can trigger both conscious and unconscious anxieties when staff and leadership are required to examine personal and organizational values, norms, behaviors, and perceptions. No matter what you do to create and communicate a compelling story and adjust policies and procedures, it all comes down to employee engagement, especially when it comes to "unfreezing" behavior and modeling change, both of which are key to ensuring employee buy-in and setting the stage for a successful change effort.

When tackling racial equity, the amount of individual energy and effort required to achieve a truly equitable and inclusive workplace can create stress at all levels of the organization — particularly for people of color. As with other change efforts, racial equity work requires staff members to personalize the process in order to find their own entry points into the work, and as each of us reflects on our own identity and what it means in both an individual and organizational context, frictions can arise. If not tactfully managed, issues of intersectionality, power dynamics, personal and work-related boundaries, and unconscious biases can become barriers that stand in the way of progress. But when implemented effectively, racial equity change initiatives can spark an examination of our lived experience, both at work and in our personal lives — as well as individual transformation. Not surprisingly then, if organizations can create a culture in which individuals are able to express and work through their own unconscious biases, uncertainty, and shame, they will experience a greater rate of change.

CRE's nearly four decades serving the nonprofit community has taught us that organizations ready to address and embrace racial equity must first examine how race interacts with all aspects of organizational culture, from board governance, to leadership and management, to staffing and talent management, to day-to-day work flow. While not an exhaustive list, below are four simple strategies for moving the needle on organizational change efforts intended to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion based on what we have learned from our experience promoting racial equity in our own organization and with our client partners.

Understand that each individual will experience this differently. As with many change initiatives, leaders (both of the organization and of the initiative) must give staff the tools and opportunity to create a shared vision that everyone can buy into. This may sound simple, but values, lived experience, and personal understanding of structural and systemic racism, among other critical factors, vary widely from individual to individual and can surface disagreement, blind spots, and resentment about what racial equity means. To help with that, we have found it essential to approach the work as an iterative process that requires paying close attention to how each person in the organization understands the larger racial equity journey. Once you begin to understand what each individual brings to that journey, you can begin to set smart goals that serve as "small wins" for all and create a shared sense of inclusion in, and ownership of, the effort.

Acknowledge that emotions matter. In their article "Reimagining Cultural Competence: Bringing Buried Dynamics Into the Light," authors Erica Gabrielle Foldy and Tamara R. Buckley make a strong case for the value of intentionally surfacing and processing emotions within an organization as a way to enhance cultural competence and diversity, equity, and inclusion. Here at CRE, we have an opt-in racial equity working group that encourages staff to engage with difficult topics in a more curious and reflective way as we implement our racial equity work plan. It's a space where each of us can openly share our feelings, frustrations, and even fears at a personal level in relation to the overall effort, and we've found it to be critical in supporting the broader effort because it enables honesty and trust building among staff across varying identities, and beyond race.

With our clients, we notice again and again that providing individuals a space where they can share feelings and emotions during interviews and focus groups can make all the difference in the success of an organization's change efforts. It encourages individuals to listen with empathy to the challenges and insecurities that surface during diversity, equity, and inclusion change efforts. And it enables the kind of trust, vulnerability, generative disagreement, and innovation that is needed for long-term organizational transformation. While it is helpful to have an outsider facilitate these conversations, it is also true that over time enough trust and ownership can be built for these efforts to become self-sustaining.

Pause when needed. Dialogue that places conversations about race within the long history of white supremacy in America and the current political moment is important for ensuring that all staff members have a shared understanding of the context of (and need for) the organization to have a racial equity vision. However, focusing solely on the long-term impact of the change effort can sometimes lead staff feeling overwhelmed by the work. To balance the need to establish concrete long-term goals with short-term wins, we have found that pausing and making space for immediate action (and reaction) is a powerful way of maintaining and reinforcing staff engagement, stamina, and buy-in.

Distribute leadership. For us at CRE, one of the most important pauses we took came in August 2017 in conjunction with the events in Charlottesville, Virginia. When those events created a feeling of despondency among staff, white allies on staff led an optional session in which all were encouraged to share and process their feelings and thoughts about the events of that weekend. Having white allies lead one-off sessions and also be active in leading and facilitating the process that followed helped distribute responsibility for our racial equity vision to every member of staff and ensured that ours would be an organizational culture in which people of color were not expected to do all the emotional heavy lifting. It also helped create more authentic buy-in from white staff members, as they worked to create sessions and work plans that took into account the emotions and viewpoints of all staff members.

While more and more organizations are dedicating resources and demonstrating a greater commitment to equity, it is still too soon to see — or even expect — big successes or even point to an established body of best practices. Addressing racial equity within an organization requires multiple levels of simultaneous interventions that consider the past, present, and future, as well as intensive (and often anxiety-provoking) work at the individual level. That's a big ask from staff members, but organizations can make headway toward it by leveraging proven change management and transition planning tools. Such tools and strategies can help organizations overcome the structural racism that exists in society and establish truly inclusive, anti-racist organizational cultures in which differences are seen as assets and lead to even greater, more sustainable impact.

Headshot_yaro fong-olivaresYaro Fong-Olivares is a consultant at Community Resource Exchange, where she focuses on transformational leadership, team effectiveness, diversity, inclusion, and organizational development and change.

Heroes, Collectives, and 'The Black Panther'

May 18, 2018


In the classic monomyth, or hero's journey, an individual goes on an adventure, faces and overcomes a challenge, and, as a result of that confrontation, returns home transformed. But the monomyth has long had its critics, who cite its misogyny, imperialistic slant, and tendency to exacerbate division through its focus on lone heroes and isolated villains. It's time to reconsider its ubiquitous use.

For some time now, I've warned activists and communications professionals that their well-meaning use of the monomyth framework can backfire. The familiarity of hero and villain, and of an easy-to-follow storyline, can be comforting. But people can tune out (if not actually resent) such pat and seemingly unrepresentative plots. Indeed, the embrace of simplicity and failure to honor diversity, complexity, and ambiguity can be counter-productive.

For example, elevating someone who has escaped a situation of intimate partner violence into a hero may cause those who remain trapped in such situations to feel like hapless victims. Likewise, pro-choice activists who choose to portray women who have had abortions as heroes may cause some women who are ambivalent about their decision to feel like a villain in their own stories.

While there are often good reasons to share a story that elevates a protagonist to hero status — and by extension, invites listeners to imagine themselves as heroic protagonists — the technique should be carefully deployed.

Even if we acknowledge that the hero is one person among many, and that the focus on her story is meant to be emblematic of a larger story, we are still categorizing her as good or bad, heroic or villainous.

By portraying a successful client as a hero, could you be alienating potential clients who find it difficult to see themselves as heroic? By congratulating the user of your program or service as a warrior, might you be implying that those who don't benefit are losers? And by focusing on the heroic individual, might you be marginalizing other players in the story? As my creative partner Jay Rhoderick points out, "The spotlight inherently creates a shadow — and who's left standing in the shadows, unheralded?"

So maybe the hero's journey framework isn't your best option. Communicating success stories about your programs or advocacy may not require an individual hero. Maybe, instead, the focus should be on the collective. Might the success you envision for your organization be the product of many actors, impacting a multitude of people?

I recently met and heard Eric Motley, executive vice president of the Aspen Institute, speak about his memoir Madison Park, A Place of Hope. Founded by a group of freed slaves in 1880, Madison Park is the small community in Montgomery, Alabama, where Motley grew up. Although ostensibly the story of his upbringing, Madison Park itself — the place and its people — is the main character in Motley's memoir.

As Eric explained at our luncheon, the community rallied around him when he was a young boy and adolescent, investing its time, money, and attention in his future. His is a story not of individualistic triumph, but of grace, gratitude, and collective action. As a listener, I was invited not to merely identify with the young Motley, but to imagine myself as a member of the collective and a contributor to its success.

Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn and co-author of The Startup of You blurbs Motley's memoir with this: "Whatever attributes we ourselves bring to the table, our networks propel us further." And promotional materials for the book note that "[t]hrough the belief, persistence, faith, and support of his community, [Motley] improbably made his way to the Oval Office as special assistant to President George W. Bush."

A different example of heroic collectivism was evident in my recent work with the harm reduction community. The women I worked with, all of whom have been impacted by drug use, chose upon reflection to move away from simple, stigmatizing, and individualistic stories and focus instead on shifting the public discourse to complicated, respectful, and collective stories of pain existing alongside love.

Individualistic stories about drug use and recovery can be shaming and, ultimately, victimizing and disempowering. Liberation is best provided through stories of heroic communities. As one woman in the group said: "We need stories of people who love us and how we love other people."

A fictional but fun and somewhat more complicated example is presented in the blockbuster film The Black Panther. Unlike other superheroes, the Black Panther's backstory is about Wakanda the place. T’Challa, the Black Panther, is the literal embodiment of the nation of Wakanda, his power coming from the land.

Alonso Duralde, in his review of the movie, explains:

What [stands] in T’Challa's way are the harsh realities of politics and statesmanship, as he learns a dark secret from his father's past that casts a pall over a land that is a paradise on Earth. Wakanda, you see, was built on the site where a meteorite made of pure vibranium (the metal from which Captain America’s shield was forged) crashed. It's made the Wakandans technologically advanced, but they’ve kept their wealth and wizardry a secret from the world.
One of the most dramatic — and relevant — storylines the film explores is whether or not advanced societies owe it to the global community to share their discoveries rather than keep their bounty to themselves. (Or as one character asks, putting none too fine a point on it, do we build bridges or erect barriers?)...

Classic literary analysis teaches that all stories contain one of three core conflicts:

  • Personal / Internal
  • Conflict between two people (a protagonist and an antagonist)
  • External (such as a natural disaster)

In fact, as the "creative collaboratory" Intelligent Mischief points out:

Most Western made movies that depict blackness shed light on black people's oppression, or black people succeeding in the face of oppression, or black people succumbing to oppression. Our movies are about black people escaping slavery, escaping poverty, shifting narratives, defying stereotypes. Essentially we are depicted as a people who are inherently in struggle....

In the movie The Black Panther, the conflict is Wakanda versus Wakanda: the community reckoning with its own isolationism. The most advanced nation on earth questions whether it has abetted injustice through secrecy. It's a story about collective action.

#MeToo, #NeverAgain, #BlackLivesMatter — these, too, are all narratives of collective action.

In "Breaking Free of the Hero Myth," Maya Zuckerman writes:

In a world where we all need to roll up our sleeves and get to work on…the challenges we face — from runaway climate change to poverty and inequality — the paradigm of the hero-savior, endlessly repeated across all of our media, can actually disempower us. We need alternative narratives that show us empowered, diverse people taking on the biggest challenges and coming together to transform a situation, not just "save the day." …We are looking far beyond the individual hero, who in reality so often fails us, and now we cheer on the collective....

Unlike the journey of an individual hero, a collective journey allows for diversity and multiple heroes. And, in a chaotic, unpredictable world, stories about collective journeys are amenable to non-linear storytelling. There are many heroes among us, some recognized, some awaiting recognition, and all contributing to a collective goal: think Emma Gonzalez, the tens of thousands of #NeverAgain marchers, and the individual marchers themselves.

This story — our story — of moving from individualistic hero journeys to journeys shared by the collective tracks Marshall Ganz's organizing strategy for the soliciting and sharing of stories. Ganz advocates first sharing The Story of Me, followed by The Story of Us, and ending with The Story of Now. Through such a process, the "story of self" becomes "the story of us" — the collective — and the "story of now" becomes the call to action on behalf of the collective.

In our work together and with our clients, my partner Jay encourages us to "widen the wash of our spotlights, our way of looking, and to get more curious as audiences and more generous as storytellers." We can all join in doing that by broadening our notions of individualistic heroes and appreciating the complex, multi-character stories of heroism existing all around us. Let's listen for, invite, and amplify the stories of our supporting and heroic collectives.

Headshot_thaler_pekarThaler Pekar, CEO of Thaler Pekar & Partners, is an internationally-recognized pioneer in organizational narrative, leadership storytelling, and persuasive communication. Click here for more by Thaler.

What's New at Foundation Center Update (May)

May 17, 2018

FC_logoThe flowers are blooming (and allergies raging!), and Foundation Center work is springing ahead through conferences, webinars and trainings, and new data collection efforts. I’m back in NYC for a few days to catch my breath, enjoy the noisy (in a good way) birds, and fill you in on the many exciting things we were up to in April:

Projects Launched

  • As part of our ongoing #OpenForGood campaign, we launched a new GrantCraft guide, Open For Good: Knowledge Sharing to Strengthen Grantmaking, which explores how funders can open up and share their knowledge with the rest of the social sector, and beyond. And to recognize funders that are already knowledge sharing champions, we also launched the inaugural #OpenForGood Award at the recent GEO conference. (Congrats, GEO, on twenty years of strengthening the philanthropy field!) To nominate a foundation for our new award, visit: http://foundationcenter.org/openforgood.
  • Foundation Center's Knowledge Services staff continue to help the Council on Foundations field its annual Grantmaker Salary & Benefits Survey, which provides the sector with data on staff composition and compensation of U.S. grantmakers. Council members and non-members with paid full-time staff are invited to complete the survey by May 25, so there's still time to participate and receive access to salary benchmarking reports generated from the data collected.
  • We released our second Ghana report, which synthesizes the key outcomes from the Ghana Data Strategy and Capacity Building Workshop hosted by Foundation Center and the SDG Philanthropy Forum in November 2017. The meeting was part of our broader agenda to support the Ghanaian philanthropic sector in the areas of data capacity, collaboration, and effective grantmaking.
  • We launched two leadership series papers on GrantCraft about where power sits in philanthropic practice — From Words to Action: A Practical Philanthropic Guide to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, by Barbara Chow; and How Community Philanthropy Shifts Power: What Donors Can Do to Help Make That Happen, by Jenny Hodgson and Anna Pond. Both papers encourage funders to rethink their relationships with grantees, partners, and each other and consider what they can do to foster greater inclusivity and give more power to those who lack it.

Content Published

What We're Excited About

  • We closed our annual CF Insights Columbus Survey. Look for the report coming this June. Learn more about the survey here.
  • We just relaunched our beloved website for the social sector, grantspace.org! The site’s new and improved design makes it easy to navigate to trainings and find Foundation Center locations in your region, and you can also explore hundreds of free topical resources to build your own knowledge and capacity — from anywhere in the world!

Upcoming Conferences and Events

Our staff will be speaking at these upcoming events:

Data Spotlight

  • 356,898 new grants added to Foundation Maps in April, of which 14,423 grants were made to 2,444 organizations outside the U.S.
  • New data sharing partners: Community Foundation of Sarasota County, Inc.; Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art; Fay Fuller Foundation; Deaconess Foundation; Otto Bremer Foundation; and Stranahan Foundation. Tell your story through data so we can communicate philanthropy's contribution to making a better world — learn more about our eReporting program.
  • Year-to-date we’ve answered more than 3,000 questions via our live Online Librarian chat service.
  • Foundation Directory Online recently launched new Recipient charts! Quickly gain key insights on more than 500,000 individual Recipient profiles. You can also search 140,000 foundation profiles and over 11 million grants.

If you found this update helpful, feel free to share it or shoot us an email! I’ll be back next month with another update.

Jen Bokoff is director of stakeholder engagement at Foundation Center.

It’s Time to Invest in Youth Leaders

May 16, 2018

DCPSWalkout_AFA-1024x681In the months since the tragic mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, the response of youth activists has captured the attention of the nation. What has largely gone unnoticed, however, is that across the country a dynamic youth-organizing field has emerged. Over the past twenty years, groups — many of them led by low-income young people of color — have been organizing to improve education, end the school-to-prison pipeline, protect immigrant rights, and address other critical issues.

New research demonstrates that not only does youth organizing result in concrete policy changes, it also promotes positive academic, social/emotional, and civic engagement outcomes. Yet despite recent investment in youth organizing from funders like the Ford Foundation and the California Endowment, overall funding remains modest. That's unfortunate, because even as a new generation demonstrates its willingness to take on some of our toughest issues, the need for investment in the leadership of young people, especially those most impacted by injustice, has never been more important.

According to the Funders' Collaborative on Youth Organizing's National Youth Organizing Landscape Map, there are more than two hundred youth organizing groups across the country, the majority of them focused on middle and high school students of color. These groups support the development of young leaders and organize campaigns to address inequity in their communities. In Los Angeles, Inner City Struggle and Community Coalition led the campaign to ensure a rigorous college preparatory curriculum for all students. Groups such as Communities United in Chicago, Padres y Jovenes Unidos in Denver, and the Philadelphia Student Union have gotten their school districts to create policies that address racial disparities in school discipline, resulting in changes that have benefited hundreds of thousands of students. 

A new report summarizing the findings of multiple studies suggests that not only does this kind of organizing drive positive change in communities, it is also one the best ways to support the healthy development of young people. Contrary to the common misconception of organizing as rabble-rousing, researchers found that organizing engages young people in a cycle of research, preparation, action, and reflection, while providing them with many opportunities to develop critical thinking skills. Researchers also found that youth organizers engage in "emotional work" that supports the development of the social and emotional skills which experts believe to be among the best predictors of future success.

Indeed, a study of more than three hundred youth organizing alumni found that they were nearly twice as likely to attend a four-year college, more than three times as likely to attend a top college, and seven times more likely to belong to a political organization than peers from similar backgrounds. Researchers also found that youth organizing is especially relevant for low-income young people and young people of color because of the way it speaks to their lived realities. 

Part of the power of youth organizing is that it connects individual transformation to systemic change. Too often, funders and community leaders feel they must choose between these very different outcomes. But the reality is that we cannot achieve one without the other. While some young people faced with adverse circumstances will develop the resilience to succeed, there is a direct relationship between young people's development and the quality and health of their schools and communities. To create real transformation, we must develop strategies that connect individual and community change. 

We find ourselves once again in a moment where young people are demonstrating that they are the most effective drivers of change. The post-Parkland movement is turning its attention from marches and walkouts to engaging young voters. Collaboration between the young people inspired by the Parkland tragedy and those organizing around racial justice could create a powerful force for good. A generation of civically engaged young people with the skills to bring people together across lines of race and class may be our best hope for creating a just and democratic society. For this to become a reality, however, philanthropy must invest meaningfully in the leadership of young people, especially those from communities most impacted by injustice. 

Despite the many benefits of youth organizing, less than one percent of the money invested in youth development goes to organizing. This must change. Engaging young people in organizing is a three-for-one investment: it creates real change in communities, supports young people's healthy development, and trains the next generation of community leaders. Youth organizing develops productive, empowered young people while also creating societal conditions in which they can thrive. This generation of young people is ready to lead. It's time for philanthropy to get behind them.


(Photo credit: Allison Fletcher Acosta)

Eric Braxton is executive director of the Funders’ Collaborative on Youth Organizing, a collective of social justice funders and youth organizing practitioners that works to advance youth organizing as a strategy for youth development and social change.

Engage From the Inside! How Internal Branding Strengthens Nonprofits (Part 1)

May 15, 2018

Brand-graphicImagine you work at a nonprofit or a foundation with a decent-sized staff (a few dozen to as many as a hundred employees). It might be a national research institute or a local community development organization. It has several departments focused on different issues or areas of operation. There may be physical offices catering to different needs or populations. It might even be part of a larger network of organizations.

Whatever the situation, each day everyone comes to work and does his or her best to contribute to the organization's mission. But while there's a sense of what you're all working towards, there are disconnects. Silos and knowledge gaps are stifling innovation and affecting results. New funding streams have led to mission creep. The organization has grown, added lots of new faces, and its strategic plan needs revisiting. Staff have very different ways of talking about the organization's work.

The result is fragmentation that's making people inside the organization less effective — and is confusing lots of people outside the organization. So leadership decides it's time to address the problem by working on the organization's branding with the goal of creating clarity and getting everyone on the same page.

Falling Short of Our Goals

Branding is important to the success of any organization, but it's particularly important for those in the nonprofit sector. Social impact work is complex and often abstract; results can be more difficult to measure (and achieve) than in the for-profit world; and the temptation of new opportunities for impact (and the funding that comes with them) means mission creep is always a concern.

The struggle to channel the passion and complexity (and opinions!) associated with social impact work is real. But branding offers a way forward — a process that, when executed well, aligns a nonprofit's aspirations, operations, and communications.

Too often, however, the results, while useful, fall short of expectations. Instead of creating the strategic focus and clarity leadership had hoped for, a process filled with research, soul-searching, and valuable insights results mostly in carefully crafted content and a new visual identity. Both important things! But…the ultimate goal of strategic brand development should be more than just a new logo and improved communications materials. The real goal should be to dramatically increase an organization's ability to lead in its area(s) of focus by increasing its cohesion, capacity, and impact.

So what are the roadblocks to developing a brand that significantly improves your organization's capacity to lead on the issues it cares about most?

EBB (External Branding Bias) Syndrome

What comes to mind when we talk about branding? For most people, it's external things like reputation, messaging, design, and experiences. That makes sense. How a brand is both projected and experienced is essential to engaging the people outside an organization who benefit from and support its work. External branding is how organizations manage their relationships with people, and it's how people relate to them. Every external brand experience — online and in person — contributes to generating (or reducing) trust in, support for, and action on behalf of an organization.

Nonprofits often have a particularly strong bias towards external branding. Perhaps it's because nonprofits direct so much of their energy to collaborating with and serving others. In addition, until about a decade ago, branding was mostly viewed in the nonprofit sector as something that only applied to communications and fundraising. And most nonprofits are understandably reluctant to spend limited resources on themselves when the needs outside the organization are so pressing.

As the saying goes, "culture eats strategy for breakfast, lunch, and dinner." Brands are created from the inside-out, so while it's essential to use strategy to drive your external branding, using it to focus the mission and cultivate the right kind of internal behavior, actions, and, culture matters even more. After all, how can we expect people on the outside to believe in an organization's ability to make a difference if its own people don't have (and exude!) the same kind of clarity and conviction?

 It's What's Inside That Matters

We tell our children not to judge others by how they look (or sound). But we're social and visual beings, and appearances do matter. Brands use design and messaging to turn what's on the inside (ideas, intentions, and abilities) into something tangible that others can experience (communications and interactions). The sum of those experiences is what people think of us. Assets like brand architecture, positioning platforms, and design systems are great for helping organizations influence the appearance of their brand and create meaningful experiences. But as we tell our kids, it's what inside that really matters.

When it comes to rebranding a nonprofit organization, in my experience leadership usually embraces this value, but only to a degree. And that’s understandable — it's hard to get too involved when there are more pressing concerns to worry about. There’s also the reality that legacy perceptions of branding as a tool for communications and development, rather than a strategic asset for mission implementation, persist. The result often is a "skin-deep" approach to brand development that leaves a lot of value on the table.

Of course, even that level of branding produces insights that can help nonprofits create more effective communications. Unfortunately, too often the work fails to go beyond the surface. Strategy stays locked-up in documents that gather dust on a shelf, momentum is lost, and the work never becomes the broader catalyst for greater impact that it was intended to be.

Nonprofits that want to use their brand to increase their impact need to design it into their organizations, not just their communications. That's how you increase the organization's perceived and actual value. And the key is a brand development process that focuses and aligns your aspirations, operations, and communications — one that improves the organization's capacity for strategic thinking, more effectively engages stakeholders both inside and outside the organization, and leads to greater impact.

After all, isn't this what most of us are looking for when we decide to work on our brand?

In Part 2, I'll go into greater detail about the benefits of an effective internal branding process and what they mean for social impact organizations. In the meantime, you can check out other articles in our Cause-Driven Design®series here.

Headshot_matt_schwartzMatt Schwartz is founder and executive director at Constructive, a New York City-based brand strategy and experience design firm dedicated to helping social change organizations achieve greater impact. He can also be found on Twitter at @matt_schwartz_.

Weekend Link Roundup (May 12-13, 2018)

May 13, 2018

Pexels-photo-414659Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Arts and Culture

Power is shifting at the top of U.S. museums — and that's a good thing. Nadja Sayej reports for the Guardian.


If the latest Atlas video released by Boston Dynamics hasn't got your attention...well, take a look. But before Atlas and his pals decide that we're all so much useless wetware, you might be wondering what the implications of AI for nonprofit marketers are. Forbes contributor Dionisios Favatas, digital lead for the award-winning Truth Initiative, a youth tobacco prevention campaign, shares some thoughts.

Google has rather sneakily announced significant changes to its popular Google Ad Words program. In a post republished on Beth Kanter's blog, Whole Whale's George Weiner fills in the details.


New menu labeling rules that require chain restaurants and other food retailers to provide calorie counts and other nutrition information to their customers are about to go into effect. How did we get here? And how do the guidelines connect to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Culture of Health vision? The foundation's Jennifer Ng'andu explains

Higher Education

"Anyone who believes that public higher education is crucial to our democracy should be alarmed by the recent suggestions by George Mason University’s president that donations to the institution from the Charles Koch Foundation have had 'undue influence in academic matters,' " writes Rudy Fichtenbaum, a professor emeritus of economics at Wright State University and president of the American Association of University Professors, in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Why? Because such donations threaten the twin principles of shared governance and academic freedom that "ensure that institutions of higher education serve the public interest, as opposed to the narrow special interests of big corporations, wealthy donors, or powerful politicians." 

The 18-year-olds graduating high school this spring have known schools as sites of violence their entire lives. How can higher education support them and help advance the movement they have started to prevent gun violence in schools? On the Inside Higher Ed site, Kathleen McCartney, president of Smith College, shares some thoughts.


Nonprofit Chronicles blogger Marc Gunther profiles Leap of Reason author, philanthropist, and social sector thought leader Mario Morino as the tireless Morino sets his sights on "build[ing] a movement to improve the performance of America's charities." 

Nonprofit AF's Vu Le is trying to work less — and explains why you should, too.


A "toxic culture of fear, blame and intimidation” reinforced by the "inaction" of senior leadership and HR was how a July 2017 letter to the board signed by sixty-five employees of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation characterized the workplace there.  New York Times' reporter David Gelles looks at how one of the biggest "success" stories in philanthropy unraveled.

In the New York Times, Harold Pollack, a professor of social service administration and public health science at the University of Chicago, has some thoughts about how Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who has amassed a $131 billion (with a "b") fortune and finds himself in a position where he can spend more than $6 billion every year, pretty much indefinitely, can use some of that wealth to help people here on Planet Earth.

On her Social Velocity blog, Nell Edgington poses a question that many others were asking at the recently concluded Grantmakers for Effective Organizations conference: Is philanthropy disrupting or perpetuating the system of inequality from which it was born? 


And on our sister Transparency Talk blog, Melissa Moy announces the release of a new GrantCraft guide, Open for Good: Knowledge Sharing to Strengthen Grantmakingpart of the center’s #OpenForGood campaign, as well as details about the inaugural #OpenForGood Award, which aims to bring recognition and visibility to foundations that share their challenges, successes, and failures with the goal of strengthening how we all think and act as a sector.

Got something you'd like to share? Drop us a note at mfn@foundationcenter.org

Acknowledging Power Isn’t Enough — Dig Deeper!

May 11, 2018

3-teardrop-illustration-300x256Earlier this month, the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) released Power Moves: Your Essential Philanthropy Assessment Guide for Equity and Justice, a comprehensive resource for foundations that explores the role of power and privilege in advancing equity and justice. Acknowledging my own bias as a project advisor, I'm beyond excited to see all the different ways this assessment tool will be used to influence philanthropy, because, let's face it, our sector has a power problem.

"The power dynamic" often comes up in conversations among philanthropoids as "something to watch for" or "be mindful of." But seldom do I see that acknowledgment lead anywhere. From burdensome (and sometimes inaccessible) grant application processes and site visits, to restricted short-term investments, to truncated feedback loops, to the composition of staff and boards, to public silence on too many issues, we're slow as a field to move from acknowledgment to action. Power doesn't have to be negative or something we tiptoe around; indeed, intentionality around knowing where power sits and then building, sharing, and wielding it thoughtfully can be a powerful lever for smarter work and better results. The NCRP guide allows foundations of all types and sizes to explore these topics holistically through both internal reflection and outward-facing learning, and offers a series of actions they can take to advance their equity and justice efforts.

Over the last few years, I've teamed up with various colleagues to lead workshops using improv comedy to talk about power dynamics with the intent of diving deeper into a subject that often makes people uncomfortable. These sessions are fun and usually successful, but they present a two-fold challenge: they're "opt in," which tends to attract people who are ready to step out of their comfort zone, and they're small, which means that all that good reflection, learning, and conversation usually isn't documented. How is an attendee at a session like that — or in any conversation that digs deeper into power and its connection with equity — supposed to bring her learnings back to their workplace? It's hard, and we'd be kidding ourselves if we didn't acknowledge our own internal power issues as part of that challenge.

A big part of my enthusiasm for the new NCRP tool is that it provides a transparent, shared way for staff to interrogate this topic, as well as a sample six-month timeline to guide your use of the tool. What it doesn't do is prescribe a single set of answers or solutions (and it's my belief that good tools shouldn't — unless, of course, that prescription is for more long-term general operating support!); instead, it raises necessary questions designed to help foundations arrive at their own answers. These provocations are often hard for foundation staff to raise (I know a few who have tried and been shut down), and having a trusted resource to back you up can be hugely beneficial.

At Foundation Center, we aim to democratize data about philanthropy and social sector knowledge, in the belief that they shouldn't be privileged. When mission-driven organizations pay attention to — and share — knowledge, it inevitably leads to better outcomes. Knowing what others have learned and understanding the broader landscape in which we all work can help bring us together and wield our power and privilege in ways that create equitable, catalytic change. Our eReporting initiative and #OpenForGood campaign are just two (among many) ways that you can get involved, and I encourage you to think about how greater sharing and transparency play into your own social change efforts.

Headshot_Jen_BokoffTo learn more about the Power Moves toolkit, join us for a free webinar on May 30.

Jen Bokoff is director of stakeholder engagement at Foundation Center.


[Review] Fair Shot: Rethinking Inequality and How We Earn

May 08, 2018

More than fifty years after President Lyndon Johnson launched a War on Poverty in America, an estimated forty-five million Americans still live below the poverty line, and many critics of government have declared its efforts in this area an utter failure. At times, the scope and persistence of the problem can cause even the most committed anti-poverty activist to despair. But what if the solution to poverty was as straightforward as putting cash directly in the pockets of the people who need it?

Book_Fair-Shot-coverThat's what Chris Hughes, a co-founder of Facebook and an Obama campaign aide who in 2016 co-founded the Economic Security Project — a group committed to advancing the debate around unconditional cash transfers and guaranteed basic income in the United States — proposes in his new book, Fair Shot: Rethinking Inequality and How We EarnOr as Hughes puts it boldly at one point: "Government should provide a guaranteed income of $500 a month to every adult who lives in a household making less than $50,000 per year and who is working in some way."

It's not a new idea. In August 1969, having narrowly defeated Democrat Hubert Humphrey in one of the closest presidential elections in U.S. history, President Richard Nixon unveiled a vision for welfare reform that included a guaranteed income. "What I am proposing," Nixon told his fellow Americans in a televised speech, "is that the federal government build a foundation under the income of every American family with dependent children that cannot care for itself — and wherever in America that family may live." The Family Assistance Plan that emerged from the administration a few years later proposed using a negative income tax to guarantee an income floor of $1,600 ($11,000 in today's dollars) for a family of four. But while the bill passed the House with bipartisan support, it failed to make it out of the Senate Finance Committee, leading its chief architect, future New York senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, to later observe: "The program was both too much and too little; too radical, too reactionary; too comprehensive, not comprehensive enough."

The failure of the plan wasn't a complete loss. In 1974, as Hughes reports, Nixon signed a bill that created a guaranteed income for the elderly and disabled; today Supplemental Security Income provides nearly nine million Americans with a monthly income of $735. And a few years after that, Congress passed the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which provides a refundable credit on a sliding scale to low- and moderate-income working individuals and families. Over the years, lawmakers on both the right and the left have praised the EITC, which annually provides $70 billion in cash to 26 million working families and individuals and has helped lift 10 million people out of poverty. Indeed, every president since Gerald Ford has "signed a bill to significantly increase the benefit."

Hughes is aware, of course, of the success and popularity of the EITC, which is why he and his colleagues at the Economic Security Project believe a tax credit should be the basis of any new policy to guarantee a basic income for Americans. But there's a crucial difference between his proposal and the Earned Income Tax Credit: how it's paid for. Hughes proposes a solution that, in his words, is "more directly tied to the problem" — namely, to have "the top earners in our country, people like me who have benefited massively from…new economic forces, to pay a small part of our fortune forward." And his rationale is straightforward: the growth of companies like Amazon, Apple, and Google — and the wealth amassed by the one percent at the top of the income pyramid — have come at the expense of ordinary working Americans. He argues, for example, that Facebook's incredible success and exponential growth was the direct result of rapid advances in technology, the globalization of trade and financial flows, and the rise of finance/venture capital. Those same forces, in turn, resulted in the loss of millions of American jobs to automation and the transformation of mid-century America's world-beating industrial economy into a "gig economy" that generates lots of poorly paid part-time positions that leave too many hard-working Americans struggling to get by.

Hughes is a progressive idealist, and it should come as no surprise that he believes wealthy Americans should pay their "fair share," or that "we all benefit from a society that is more just and fair." Morality aside, however, there's also a demand-side economic argument to be made: when low- and middle-income Americans have extra cash in their pockets, they're more likely to spend it in the short term than are one-percenters who don't need and wouldn't particularly miss the extra dollars they would pay in higher taxes.

At the same time, Hughes is careful to note the objections wealthy people and critics on the right often have to a guaranteed basic income, the most common of which might be stated as: "How much is an extra $100 or $200 a month really going to help anybody struggling to get by?" But as a woman in Ohio told Hughes as he was researching his proposal, "[A]nyone asking that question has never had to choose between buying groceries and making rent."

Beyond the economic case, Fair Shot argues that readers from all backgrounds — but especially those in the social sector — need to reexamine their objections to giving cash directly to those who need it. Hughes is puzzled by such objections and admits that at times in the past he struggled to formulate an intellectual justification for the approach. But after a couple of trips to Africa, where he witnessed firsthand the often-disappointing results generated by top-down anti-poverty interventions, he had an epiphany: "Why was my default to trust an educated outsider or nonprofit executive with resources rather than the poor themselves?" And why does the "idea that the poor might know the best way to solve their problems" seem so radical when, in reality, it isn't?

While many have proffered "solutions" to the problem of income inequality, few come to the issue with the kind of the perspective that Hughes, a co-founder of one the world's largest and most powerful companies, has. What makes Fair Shot so inspiring isn't its bold and straightforward approach to the problem of poverty in America. It's Hughes' open, honest, and refreshingly human exploration of how his own background, upbringing, and experience led him to advocate for a guaranteed income for low-income and working people, paid for by people like himself. Fully aware of the role chance has played in his own good fortune, he sincerely believes it is his obligation and moral responsibility to pay forward that success. America in 2018 is not the America of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society, or even the relatively liberal America of the early 1970s. But as the title of the book's final chapter suggests, Americans owe each other something. A basic income seems like a good place to start.

Nick Opinsky is a development assistant at Foundation CenterFor more great reviews, visit the Off the Shelf section in PND.

Weekend Link Roundup (May 5-6, 2018)

May 06, 2018

Lies_truthOur weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the social sector. For more links to great content, follow us on Twitter at @pndblog....

Arts and Culture

Jane Chu, chairwoman of the National Endowment for the Arts, which twice has been targeted for elimination by the Trump administration, is stepping down from her position on June 4. Peggy McGlone reports for the Washington Post.

Criminal Justice

Is America ready to rethink the mass incarceration policies of the last thirty years. The results of a new poll by the Vera Institute of Justice hints at the possibility. CityLab's Teresa Mathew spoke with Jasmine Heiss, director of outreach and public affairs strategist at Vera, about what the new data means and how it might lead to changes in policy.


"The concept of 'fairness' is easy for people to understand, and on a superficial level it seems good and something we should aim for," writes Nonprofit AF blogger Vu Le. "But 'fairness' guarantees the status quo. 'Fairness' eliminates qualified candidates and perpetuates the lack of diversity in our sector. 'Fairness' continues to ensure the communities most affected by systemic injustice — black communities, Native communities, immigrant/refugee communities, Muslim communities, communities of disability, rural communities, LGBTQIA communities — continue to get the least amount of resources."

Food Insecurity

In a new post, Fast Company contributor Ben Paynter profiles Goodr, a food-waste management company (and app) that redirects surplus food from businesses to nonprofits that can share it with those who are food insecure.

Global Health

Former junk bond king and philanthropist Michael Milken has come out in support of the World Bank's forthcoming Human Capital Index project, which will rank countries according to how much they invest in the health and education of their people, and is due to be released later this year. Lila MacLellan reports for Quartz.


In conjunction with World Press Freedom Day (May 3), a new report (32 pages, PDF) from IFEX, a global network dedicated to defending free expression, finds that the press in the United States is facing unprecedented challenges. They include: record numbers of prosecutions against whistleblowers; the restriction of public information on the grounds of national security; the direct stigmatization of media workers by politicians; physical attacks and intimidation; and arbitrary arrests of journalists by law enforcement officials. 


According to Nonprofit Chronicles blogger Marc Gunther, the recent resignations of two high-ranking executives at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation likely spells the end of CEO Emmett Carson's tenure at the foundation. Gunther, who played a role in exposing the toxic workplace culture at SVCF, minces no words as he shares his own view of the controversy: "As I've written before, foundations are the least accountable institutions of American society. I hope the events at the SVCF  will encourage others to take a close look at what foundations do and how they do it. They are too important to be left alone."

The Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at IUPUI has released the 2018 Global Philanthropy Environment Index (GPEI), an initiative aimed at "equip[ping] policy makers, philanthropic and nonprofit leaders, the business community, and the public with a clear understanding of the environment for global philanthropy."

On Tuesday, the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy released Power Moves: Your Essential Philanthropy Assessment Guide for Equity and Justice, a self-assessment toolkit "centered on the role of power and privilege in advancing equity" in philanthropy.

Blogging a day after the conclusion of the 2018 Grantmakers for Effective Organizations conference,  Whitman Institute co-executive director Pia Infante shares half a dozen ways that grantmakers can move from "uncomfortable truths to courageous action." 

Jeff Bezos, the wealthiest man in the world, has decided that the best use of his vast fortune is to make space travel a reality. Not everyone is happy with his decision.

And on the Center for Effective Philanthropy blog, Grace Nicolette, CEP's vice president for programming and external relations, finds a lot to like about Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms’s new book New Power: How Power Works in Our Hyperconnected World — and How to Make It Work for You. 

Got something you'd like to share? Drop us a note at mfn@foundationcenter.org


A Quick Guide to Digital Marketing for Nonprofits

May 02, 2018

Dig-marketingDonating to charity has changed for the better over the last few years. These days, pretty much everything takes place online, and giving to charity or supporting a good cause is no different. Which is why charities and nonprofits hoping to stand out had better have a robust online presence.

There are lots of ways to do that, but here are a few basics your organization should be thinking about:

1. Email marketing. Email is one of the best ways to reach supporters and potential donors. Whether your goal is to boost the number of subscribers to your newsletter, keep supporters and volunteers up to date on recent developments, or kick off a fundraising campaign, email is one of the least expensive and most effective ways to do it.

But it's important that your email content and presentation be engaging. Emails that consist of big chunks of dry text and cliched images are more likely to hurt than help. Try to send two but no more than four emails a month — and don't forget to include a CTA (call to action)! (You’d be surprised how many organizations don't.)

One good solution for those just getting into email marketing is MailChimp, an email marketing platform/service that makes it easy to format and structure your email newsletters for maximum impact.

2. Social media presence. Social media has changed the world — mostly for the better. It's a great tool for charities and nonprofits, not least because platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest make it easy to share all sorts of campaign materials. With a few lines of code, you can also add social sharing buttons to your website and emails. Why is that important? The more people who follow you, the more donations you're going to receive!

3. Donation pages. Your organization's donation pages should be clear and to the point. People just don't have the time to comb through paragraphs of information and instructions — you want to make it as easy for them to donate to your organization online as it is to purchase a book or a buy pair of socks.

Make sure you also provide a recurring donation option for people who are willing to commit smaller amounts on a monthly basis. They're not likely to notice the extra $5 or $10 out of their budget every month, but over time your charity or nonprofit will. Making it easy for supporters to donate to your organization on a recurring basis also helps keep supporters connected to your organization and cause over the longer term.

Lastly, don't forget to make it easy for others to share your donation page with friends, family members, and their social networks.

4. Content. The more content you put out, the more you'll be seen as an organization with something to say. That means creating informative articles, fact sheets, and other digital resources on a regular basis. If your organization can demonstrate that it knows what it's doing, is a great source of information about its particular cause, and gets results, donors with an interest in that cause are going to want to support you.

The quality of your content also is important. Make sure your copy is concise and professionally edited — and try to break it up with powerful images. Images that highlight your organization's activities are great, as are those that depict the people and places you're having a positive impact on. )

Your goal is to tell the story of how your organization does good in the world. When told well, others will want to be a part of that story. And don't forget to optimize your content for mobile.

5. Regular engagement with supporters. Rule No. 1: Don't forget to say thank you. Nonprofits and charities that acknowledge every donation are much more likely to receive follow-up donations from their supporters than nonprofits and charities that don't. And when you thank your supporters, ask them to share the fact they supported you via their social networks. Believe it or not, most people will be happy to do so. You can even create automated email responses that reduce the amount of work required on your part.

6. Your website. I probably don't need to remind you that your website should be as clear and easy to navigate as your email and other marketing materials.

That said, there are a few things you can do on a website to maximize lead generation and gift revenue that you can't do with email. For example, adding pop ups to your site is a good way to get people to sign up for your newsletters and to collect the contact information of folks who may become donors down the road.

By paying attention to all of the above, your organization will improve its chances of securing new and recurring gifts from supporters and potential supporters. Those same supporters will be more receptive to hearing about your recent activities and successes. And when you acknowledge their support, they'll be more likely to share your content via their social media channels and to remember you the next time you ask them to make a gift or donation.

Headshot_daniel_rossGood luck!

Daniel Ross is part of the marketing team at Roubler, a scheduling and payroll software platform whose mission is to change the way the world manages its workforce.

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (April 2018)

May 01, 2018

As not-spring turns into full-on summer, we've been busy rounding up your favorite posts from the past thirty days. Haven't had a lot of time for sector-related reads? Don't sweat it — here's your chance.

What have you read/watched/heard lately that got your attention, made you think, or charged you up? Feel free to share in the comments section below.

Interested in writing for PND or PhilanTopic? We'd love to hear from you. Send a few lines about your idea/article/post to mfn@foundationcenter.org.


Quote of the Week

  • "The dignity of the individual will flourish when the decisions concerning his life are in his own hands, when he has assurance that his income is stable and certain, and when he knows that he has the means to seek self-improvement ...."

    — Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)

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